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“A Tale Of Two Parties In Texas”: Republicans Are Tied In Knots, Democrats Seeing A Resurgence In Grassroots Enthusiasm

The fight over reproductive rights in Texas has reinvigorated progressive voices in the Lone Star State in ways unseen in many years, as evidenced by yesterday’s large, mid-day rally in Austin. The effort to turn back the Republican effort has also drawn the interest of Democrats at the national level — during state Sen. Wendy Davis’ (D) filibuster last week, none other than the president of the United States weighed in to offer his support.

But as David Nather reported, there’s a bit of a mismatch: while national Democrats are eager to use Texas as a rallying cry for activism, even for those nowhere near the state, national Republicans have sat on their hands.

The liberal side of the Texas abortion showdown has the two most powerful Democrats in Washington squarely in its corner: Barack Obama and Harry Reid — not to mention a Dixie Chick.

On the right: Rick Perry’s holding down the fort without much obvious help from national Republicans.

The DNC is involved in Texas; the RNC is not. Democratic congressional leaders have weighed in; Republican congressional leaders have not. And as Politico‘s report added, a key party official in Texas “acknowledged there’s no behind-the-scenes help coming.”

Some of this is simply a matter of need, or in this case, the lack thereof — Republican policymakers in the state hold the reins of power, including majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office. Davis and her allies took advantage of procedural tactics to win a temporary reprieve, but GOP officials believe it’s only a matter of time before they approve the sweeping new restrictions that Gov. Rick Perry (R) wants.

But that’s not the only reason Republicans in D.C. are letting this story go by without comment. After all, it’s a national story and there’s nothing stopping prominent GOP leaders and/or the Republican National Committee from, at a minimum, offering Perry words of support and encouragement.

And yet, the party is biting its tongue, probably because it sees this as a political loser for Republicans at the national level.

The mismatch makes sense: Even abortion bills that poll well, like the one in Texas does, open the door to the kinds of comments that have hurt national Republicans repeatedly — from Rep. Trent Franks’s comments last month on the “very low” number of rape-related pregnancies to Todd Akin blowing his shot at a Senate seat over his “legitimate rape” remarks in 2012.

I understand the political calculus, but the GOP is playing a losing game. For one thing, it’s unlikely engaged voters are going to make much of a distinction — it’s not like Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are going to be shielded from criticism because their allies in Austin are pushing extreme measures on reproductive rights.

Indeed, it seems every time Republicans at the national level make a conscious effort to move away from the party’s “war on women,” efforts like this one in Texas remind the public of the GOP’s agenda all over again.

And then there’s the unfortunate flip side: by remaining silent, national Republican officials are angering the party’s far-right base, which expects them to speak up.

“You either fight and ask your leaders to fight on an issue that cuts your way or you just fold up and go home, which is what the national party wants to do,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “It really is fear. It really is simply, ‘We’re not going to go there.'”

“Now, you’ve got an issue that’s in your platform, that cuts your way with big margins. To be silent is a mistake,” Dannenfelser said.

The irony is, Perry and his allies are likely to win this fight in terms of legislative success, but it’s Republicans who are tied in knots and Democrats who are seeing a resurgence in grassroots enthusiasm and engagement.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 2, 2013

July 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defining Prosperity Down”: At This Point, It’s Clear That Monetary Hawkery Is Mainly A Form Of Puritanism

Friday’s employment report wasn’t bad. But given how depressed our economy remains, we really should be adding more than 300,000 jobs a month, not fewer than 200,000. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, we would need more than five years of job growth at this rate to get back to the level of unemployment that prevailed before the Great Recession. Full recovery still looks a very long way off. And I’m beginning to worry that it may never happen.

Ask yourself the hard question: What, exactly, will bring us back to full employment?

We certainly can’t count on fiscal policy. The austerity gang may have experienced a stunning defeat in the intellectual debate, but stimulus is still a dirty word, and no deliberate job-creation program is likely soon, or ever.

Aggressive monetary action by the Federal Reserve, something like what the Bank of Japan is now trying, might do the trick. But far from becoming more aggressive, the Fed is talking about “tapering” its efforts. This talk has already done real damage; more on that in a minute.

Still, even if we don’t and won’t have a job-creation policy, can’t we count on the natural recuperative powers of the private sector? Maybe not.

It’s true that after a protracted slump, the private sector usually does find reasons to start spending again. Investment in equipment and software is already well above pre-recession levels, basically because technology marches on, and businesses must spend to keep up. After six years during which hardly any new homes were built in America, housing is trying to stage a comeback. So yes, the economy is showing some signs of healing itself.

But that healing process won’t go very far if policy makers stomp on it, in particular by raising interest rates. That’s not an idle worry. A Fed chairman famously declared that his job was to take away the punch bowl just as the party was really warming up; unfortunately, history offers many examples of central bankers pulling away the punch bowl before the party even starts.

And financial markets are, in effect, betting that the Fed is going to offer another such example. Long-term interest rates, which mainly reflect expectations about future short-term rates, shot up after Friday’s job report — a report that, to repeat, was at best just O.K. Housing may be trying to bounce back, but that bounce now has to contend with sharply rising financing costs: 30-year mortgage rates have risen by a third since the Fed started talking about relaxing its efforts about two months ago.

Why is this happening? Part of the reason is that the Fed is constantly under pressure from monetary hawks, who always want to see tighter money and higher interest rates. These hawks spent years warning that soaring inflation was just around the corner. They were wrong, of course, but rather than change their position they have simply invented new reasons — financial stability, whatever — to advocate higher rates. At this point it’s clear that monetary hawkery is mainly a form of Puritanism in H. L. Mencken’s sense — “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” But it remains dangerously influential.

Unfortunately, there’s also a technical issue that plays into the prejudices of the monetary hawks. The statistical techniques policy makers often use to estimate the economy’s “potential” — the maximum level of output and employment it can achieve without inflationary overheating — turn out to be badly flawed: they interpret any sustained economic slump as a decline in potential, so that the hawks can point to charts and spreadsheets supposedly showing that there’s not much room for growth.

In short, there’s a real risk that bad policy will choke off our already inadequate recovery.

But won’t voters eventually demand more? Well, that’s where I get especially pessimistic.

You might think that a persistently poor economy — an economy in which millions of people who could and should be productively employed are jobless, and in many cases have been without work for a very long time — would eventually spark public outrage. But the political science evidence on economics and elections is unambiguous: what matters is the rate of change, not the level.

Put it this way: If unemployment rises from 6 to 7 percent during an election year, the incumbent will probably lose. But if it stays flat at 8 percent through the incumbent’s whole term, he or she will probably be returned to power. And this means that there’s remarkably little political pressure to end our continuing, if low-grade, depression.

Someday, I suppose, something will turn up that finally gets us back to full employment. But I can’t help recalling that the last time we were in this kind of situation, the thing that eventually turned up was World War II.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 7, 2013

July 8, 2013 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Has It Backwards”: Republicans Want To Tax Students And Not Polluters

A basic economic principle is government ought to tax what we want to discourage, and not tax what we want to encourage.

For example, if we want less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we should tax carbon polluters. On the other hand, if we want more students from lower-income families to be able to afford college, we shouldn’t put a tax on student loans.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, congressional Republicans are intent on doing exactly the opposite.

Earlier this year the Republican-led House passed a bill pegging student-loan interest rates to the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, plus 2.5 percentage points. “I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the co-sponsor of the GOP bill, said.

Republicans estimate this will bring in around $3.7 billion of extra revenue, which will help pay down the federal debt.

In other words, it’s a tax — and one that hits lower-income students and their families. Which is why several leading Democrats, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, oppose it. “Let’s make sure we don’t charge so much in interest that the students are actually paying a tax to reduce the deficit,” he argues.

(Republicans claim the President’s plan is almost the same as their own. Not true. Obama’s plan would lead to lower rates, limit repayments to 10 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income, and fix the rate for the life of the loan.)

Meanwhile, a growing number of Republicans have signed a pledge – sponsored by the multi-billionaire Koch brothers — to oppose any climate-change legislation that might raise government revenues by taxing polluters.

Officially known as the “No Climate Tax Pledge,” its signers promise to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

By now 411 current office holders nationwide have signed on, including the entire GOP House leadership, a third of the members of the House as a whole, and a quarter of U.S. senators.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports that two successive efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions by implementing cap-and-trade energy bills have died in the Senate, the latter specifically targeted by A.F.P.’s pledge

Why are Republicans willing to impose a tax on students and not on polluters? Don’t look for high principle.

Big private banks stand to make a bundle on student loans if rates on government loans are raised. They have thrown their money at both parties but been particularly generous to the GOP. A 2012 report by the nonpartisan Public Campaign shows that since 2000, the student loan industry has spent more than $50 million on lobbying.

Meanwhile, the Koch brothers – whose companies are among America’s 20 worst air-polluters –have long been intent on blocking a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. And they, too, have been donating generously to Republicans to do their bidding.

We should be taxing polluters and not taxing students. The GOP has it backwards because its patrons want it that way.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, July 6, 2013

July 8, 2013 Posted by | Education, Environment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?”: A Polite Euphemism That Hides More Than It Reveals

As a racial classification, the term Caucasian has many flaws, dating as it does from a time when the study of race was based on skull measurements and travel diaries. It has long been entirely unmoored from its geographical reference point, the Caucasus region. Its equivalents from that era are obsolete — nobody refers to Asians as “Mongolian” or blacks as “Negroid.”

And yet, there it was in the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. The plaintiff, noted Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his majority opinion, was Caucasian.

To me, having covered the South for many years, the term seems like one of those polite euphemisms that hides more than it reveals. There is no legal reason to use it. It rarely appears in federal statutes, and the Census Bureau has never put a checkbox by the word Caucasian. (White is an option.)

The Supreme Court, which can be more colloquial, has used the term in only 64 cases, including a pair from the 1920s that reveal its limitations. In one, the court ruled that a Japanese man could not become a citizen because, although he may have been light-skinned, he was not Caucasian. In the other, an Indian was told that he could not become a citizen because, although he may have been technically Caucasian, he was certainly not white. (A similar debate erupted more recently when the Tsarnaev brothers, believed to be responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, were revealed to be Muslims from the Caucasus.)

The use of Caucasian to mean white was popularized in the late 18th century by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German anthropologist, who decreed that it encompassed Europeans and the inhabitants of a region reaching from the Obi River in Russia to the Ganges to the Caspian Sea, plus northern Africans. He chose it because the Caucasus was home to “the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgians,” and because among his collection of 245 human skulls, the Georgian one was his favorite wrote Nell Irvin Painter, a historian who explored the term’s origins in her book “The History of White People.”

In 1889, the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary noted that the term Caucasian had been “practically discarded.” But they spoke too soon. Blumenbach’s authority had given the word a pseudoscientific sheen that preserved its appeal. Even now, the word gives discussions of race a weird technocratic gravitas, as when the police insist that you step out of your “vehicle” instead of your car.

“If you want to show that you’re being dispassionate then you use the more scientific term Caucasian,” Ms. Painter said.

Susan Glisson, who as the executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Oxford, Miss., regularly witnesses Southerners sorting through their racial vocabulary, said she rarely hears “Caucasian.” “Most of the folks who work in this field know that it’s a completely ridiculous term to assign to whites,” she said. “I think it’s a term of last resort for people who are really uncomfortable talking about race. They use the term that’s going to make them be as distant from it as possible.”

There is another reason to use it, said Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of government and African-American studies at Harvard. “The court, or some clever clerk, doesn’t really want to use the word white in part because roughly half of Hispanics consider themselves white.” She added, “White turns out to be a much more ambiguous term now than we used to think it was.”

There are a number of terms that refer to various degrees of blackness, both current and out of favor: African-American, mulatto, Negro, colored, octaroon. There are not a lot of options for whites. In Texas, they say Anglo. And there is the pejorative we were so pithily reminded of when a witness in the racially charged George Zimmerman trial said the victim, Trayvon Martin, had called Mr. Zimmerman a “creepy-ass cracker.”

In the South, I was often asked about my ethnic origins, and I had a ready answer. “My father is from India,” I would recite, phrasing it in such a way as to avoid being mistaken for an American Indian. “And my mom is white.” Almost invariably, if I was speaking to black people, they would nod with understanding. If I was speaking to white people, I would get a puzzled look. “What kind of white?” they would ask. Only when I explained the Norwegian, Scottish and German mix of my ancestry would I get the nod.

I theorized that this was because blacks understood “white” as a category, both historical and contemporary — a coherent group that wielded power and excluded others. Whites, I believed, were less comfortable with that notion.

But Matthew Pratt Guterl, the author of “The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940,” had a different take. “They’re trying to trace your genealogy and figure out what your qualities are,” he said. “They’re looking in your face, they’re looking in the slope of your nose, the shape of your brow. There’s an effort to discern the truth of the matter, because all whitenesses are not equal.” In other words, they weren’t rejecting the category, they were policing its boundaries.

Such racial boundaries have increasingly been called into question in the debate over affirmative action, once regarded as a form of restitution to descendants of slaves, but now complicated by all sorts of questions about who, exactly, is being helped. “What if some of them aren’t poor, what if some of them don’t have American parentage, what if some of them are really stupid?” Ms. Painter, the historian, asked. “There’s all kinds of characteristics that we stuff into race without looking, and then they pop out and we think, ‘I can’t deal with that.’ ”

Doubtless, this society will continue to classify people by race for some time to come. And as we lumber toward justice, some of those classifications remain useful, even separate from other factors like economic class. Caucasian, though? Not so much.

 

By: Shaila Dewan, The New York Times, July 6, 2013

July 8, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Largest Share Of The Burden”: Sequestration Forces Cuts To Long-Term Unemployment Benefits For Millions

There’s plenty of talk about how sequestration is hurting some workers, like the government employees facing unpaid furlough days this year. But the cuts are hitting unemployed Americans hard as well, according to one employment rights organization.

A new analysis shows the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program – which provides benefits to long-term unemployed Americans – will be cut by $2.4 billion, impacting millions of unemployed Americans. The National Employment Law Project analysis finds that the EUC program provides an average weekly benefit of $289 before sequestration reductions. Sequestration will take $43, or nearly 15 percent, out of that average weekly check.

However, the monthly benefit cuts will be much steeper in some states, inching above $200 or even $300 per month. Among the states taking the largest chunk out of all long-term unemployed workers’ checks is Maryland, which starting June 30 cut weekly benefits to all recipients by 22.2 percent, or about $72 out of that state’s average benefit of $325. New Jersey also cut benefits by 22.2 percent, or $85 from its average benefit, as of June 30. Montana, meanwhile, cut benefits by 19.6 percent, or $51 per week, starting on May 5.

“[I]t is the workers who have benefited least from the economic recovery who are bearing the largest share of the burden of these domestic sequester reductions,” said the National Employment Law Project in a statement.

States administer their own unemployment insurance programs, providing benefits for up to 26 weeks per worker in most states. Once workers hit that point, they can start to draw on federal programs for long-term unemployed, which provides up to 47 additional weeks of federal benefits.

The reason for the differences in state cuts lies in when states started making the cuts to the federal benefit payments. Sequestration forced cuts to that EUC program, but the government left it up to the states to determine how and when to make those cuts.

In a March advisory to state workforce agencies, the Labor Department directed states to implement reductions quickly, but not every state did.

“The preferred method was the one that most states opted for, which was just to implement as quickly as possible and spread the reduction out over the entire population of individuals who were collecting EUC benefits,” explains George Wentworth, senior staff attorney for the NELP. “The later that the states implemented, that percentage [taken out of checks] increased.”

Though some states cut benefits for all workers, others chose different routes. Some implemented “non-paid weeks” for claimants, while others shortened the number of weeks that the unemployed can receive benefits. A few only cut benefits to new EUC beneficiaries.

Two haven’t done anything yet to make up the shortfall resulting from the sequester. Louisiana and Nevada have yet to cut benefits, which may mean that when they do, their cuts will be all the steeper.

North Carolina’s EUC program ended at the end of June, but those cuts were unrelated to sequestration. That state cut its weekly unemployment benefits, making it ineligible for federal EUC benefits.

While benefits are cut, long-term unemployment remains a persistent problem. Currently, nearly 4.4 million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. That is down significantly from an early 2010 peak of 6.7 million but is far higher than the levels of around 1.1 million seen in the mid-2000s.

 

By: Danielle Kurtzleben, U. S. News and World Report, July 3, 2013

July 8, 2013 Posted by | Sequester, Sequestration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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